Population as at 18th June, 2018 stands at 32,027,681. The total number of people with disabilities total about 430,000.00while the number of people affected by blindness (covering blind and vision impaired) stands at 43,000. It should be noted that the definition of blindness in Malaysia is a little different from that of the World Health Organisation, (WHO). As such, and in order to clear the air, our definition of blindness is as follow:
Definition of Blindness in Malaysia:
Visual impairment means both eyes are blind or blind in one eye. Visual impairment in Malaysia can be divided into:
1. Low vision means vision worse than 6/18 but equal to or better than 3/60 despite using visual aids or visual field of less than 20 degrees from fixation.
2. Blind means having vision of 3/60 or visual field of less than 10 degrees from fixation. Less than 3/60 is Counting Fingers (CF), Hand Movement (HM), Perception of Light (PL) and No Light Perception (NPL).
Though the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia has requested that the above definition be aligned to that of the WHO, the government of Malaysia has not agreed to the change.
The Malaysian Disability Act – 685 of Malaysia
Though Malaysia already has an Act to govern the affairs of people with disabilities, all organisations for and of people with disabilities all agree that the Malaysian act for people with disabilities has been a toothless tiger, despite it being around for about ten years now.
Due to the fact that this act has not been very effective, all matters pertaining to Education, Employment and Accessibility has been progressing rather slowly. Though there was a call for the government departments to employ at least 1% comprising of people with disabilities, only one ministry has managed to reached a target of about 2.1%. while all others are not even making efforts to employ people with disabilities.
Education of the Blind in Malaysia
In 2012, the Ministry of education introduce the Malaysian Education Blue Print which hopes to implement 70% of people with disability into inclusive schools. This would mean that the government of Malaysia has acknowledge that not all of people with disabilities will be able to cope when they are placed into inclusive schools.
The blue print merely has a target but lack guidelines in implementation nor did they have proper procedures for mid-term assessment. On the part of students affected by blindness, one of the biggest problem in an inclusive setting is the teaching and coaching of blind people in blindness related skills, such as ICT, Braille and independent living skills. While we are aware that the approach to assist people with disabilities is a multi disciplinary approach in many countries, Malaysia has always been segregated by disabilities. In most cases, blindness adaptation and training is never provided together with other disabilities but left to organisations for and of the blind to carry out.
Another issue with the implementation of inclusive education is the lack of facilities, equipment and know-how in adapting services and facilities for the use of the blind. Having more inclusive programmes would also mean spreading out thinly resources, hence, making it more expensive to provide such facilities to all blind students. As a result, the use of technology and expensive equipment is not as advance as we would like to have. Despite the lack of facilities, Malaysia has an average of about 30 persons in higher education at any given time.
Use of Braille
In complying with the efforts of change towards the use of UEB, Malaysia has also adopted the use of UEB into the education policy and is currently also formulating that the Malay Braille Code to synchronise based on the same conventions of UEB.
Employment of Blind People in Mainstream
In order to increase the participation of people with disabilities into the Malaysian Workforce, the Ministry of Human Resources is now more active in organising Job Carnivals and job matching seminars. However, it is our opinion that such engagements does help to promote the employment of the disabled but not good enough to convince that blind people are able to work in a normal setting. As such, organisations serving the blind in Malaysia are encouraged to have direct contacts with employers and to have more interaction to allow employers too understand how the blind can manage in a work place. Hence, the importance of having a placement department and suitable placement officers.
Though we hear about introduction of talking ATMs and accessible online banking facilities, Malaysia is still in an infant stage of bringing such initiatives into Malaysia. We have had several discussions and since such installations require financial implications, financial institutions are taking very small steps at a time. There are banks still reluctant to grant full access to all their services to the blind, e.g. Current account, overdraft and perhaps, a car loan. There are some blind people who have managed to get current accounts and car loans. Therefore, it depends on who you meat and how one carries themselves. Short of any official policy, the blind are at the mercy of bank officers.
Malaysia Being a Party to the Marrakesh Treaty
As for being a party to the Marrakesh Treaty, the National Council for the blind, Malaysia has had several discussions with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia, also known as MyiPO. Things look good and we have been made to understand that Malaysia is hoping to be a party by 2019. During our discussions, the officers seemed to understand that domestic laws has already made provisions for local distribution, however, the laws affecting the import and export of copyrighted materials would need to be amended prior to the signing.
Accessible Transport in Malaysia
As for improvement in transport, Malaysia introduced a new train service in July 2017 that stretches for 51 KM and passes about 30 stations. By far, this has been the most accessible train services equipped with auto doors and audio announcements. However, vending machines used for the dispensing of tickets is still not accessible for the blind. Since most of us are travelling with top up or touch and go tickets, we have avoided using such vending/dispensing machines. In an effort to support travellers needing additional support, all the stations are mended with extra manpower during peak hours.
On May 9th, 2018, there was a total change of government, where at the point of writing this report, the list of ministers and their departments have yet to be announced. In the mean time, the National Council for the Blind, Malaysia has joined other NGOs in requesting the government to consider new ideas in supporting the organisations serving people with disabilities to move forward.
One of the main request is for the setting up of a disability rights commission and to monitor discrimination faced by the disabled. As this is a new government, we are all hopeful that our suggestions will be taken into consideration. Let us hope that this new Malaysia will also be a better place for the disabled.
National Council for the Blind, Malaysia.